AT RICE UNIVERSITY
DESIGNATES A SERIES OF REPORTS
ON THOUGHTS AND INVESTIGATIONS
FROM THE DEPARTMENT OF ARCHI-
TECTURE. IT IS PUBLISHED IN THE
BELIEF THAT THE EDUCATION OF
ARCHITECTS CAN BEST BE ADVANCED
IF TEACHERS, STUDENTS, PRACTITION-
ERS, AND INTERESTED LAYMEN SHARE
IN WHAT THEY ARE THINKING AND
No. 4 MARCH, 1962
ILLUSTR A TIONS
Finnish Granite - Aalto's Office*
National Pension Housing, Munkkiniemi*
Teachers' College, Jyvaskyla*
Keski-Suomen Museo, Jyvaskyla*
House of Culture, Helsinki*
Entrance from Bus Stop*
Stairs to Upper Court*
Brick and Window Detail*
Section through Library and Courtyard**
* Photographs courtesy of Scott D. Hamilton; Jr.
** Photographs courtesy of Praeger Publisher's, New York.
AALTO'S ARCHITECTURAL HERITAGE
While many architects in the United States are clutching in the
vacuum of leadership left by the death of Frank Lloyd Wright,
few have thought to look outside our country. Instead they speak
of Minoru Yamasaki, Edward D. Stone, Paul Rudolph and until
recently of the late Eero Saarinen. However, a group of Scandin-
avians comes the closest in assuming the spirit of Wright because
of their search for an honest expression in natural materials.
Aalto is the foremiost of this group of Finns, Norwegians and few
Swedes. The rest of the world has gone mad with rational archi-
tecture of steel and glass boxes with endless repetitions of space
cages, or they have gone to the other extreme by using silly
chrome and tinsel twists and curves that are unrelated to the
practical problems of the users.
Why is this isolated Finnish architect, Alvar Aalto, a Master
Architect? First, to understand Aalto, one must know the Finland
he personifies, the national romantic movement from which he
emerged, and the direction in which Finnish architecture is mov-
ing. His influence on the formation of "Scandinavian Modern, "
its impact on the world of the early 30's, and his continued leader-
ship make him a Master Architect.
The explanation for Aalto' s work can be found in his devotion to
little Finland, his position as its most honored citizen, his assumed
obligations during peace and war, and his past, present, and future
projects, and the laboratory conditions under which he creates. It
also explains why his greatest efforts are at home rather than o.or-
As in the case of the other univer salists, Aalto tries to be the total
artist. To him, each problem demands a unique solution. He has
no dogmatic philosophy to trap his freedom of movement. Aalto
feels free to explore, and he finds his form of truth in Architecture.
Because of the high esteem, the Finnish architect has power and
freedom in dealing with his clients. They usually come with limit-
ed budgets and give the architect complete freedom to solve their
problems and deal with the miost practical solutions, and Aalto
is a very practical man with details. He feels that no money should
be spared on luxury items or mistakes in an economical society.
If an architect wastes money, it is a scandal.
Aalto refuses to lecture, write books, attend congresses, to self-
advertise or court publicity. Because of this privacy, he has the
peace and solitude to concentrate on Architecture itself, not the
fringe benefits. His vital energies and time are devoted to the
"thing Itself. "
In Finland the creative artist, athlete, or intellectual, as in an-
cient Greece, is given a place of respect and honor. The mili-
tarist, business entrepreneur, or politician is not popular ex-
cept during crisis. For example, in Finland the Prime Minister
calls upon Architect Aalto, not vice versa. In some respects
the Finns treat Aalto as a living god, a position given in the past
to Sibelius, Paavo Nurmi, and Marshal Mannerheim. Perhaps
after Aalto, some of the designers such as Tapio Wirkkala,
Ilmari Tapiovaara, or Timo Sarpaneva, or some Olympic hero
in skiing will take his place.
Finland lies at the cross-roads of east and west historically and
has come under a multitude of influences. Finland was under
Swedish domination until 1809 when she surrendered to become a
semi-autonomous Duchy cf Russia. The Russians used dictatorial
edicts to Russianize the Finns. They also brought Carl Ludwig
Engel, the first of a series of foreign architects sent to Finland
by the Russians, to plan the city of Helsinki. Earlier he had plan-
ned Talinn and St, Petersburg. The third influence was German,
inasmuch as Germany was the only principal power on the Baltic,
excluding Russia and Sweden, with whom the newly independent
nation could ally after 1917. Even until the German defeat during
World War II, a German prince was considered as a possible
Finnish monarch. This close influence was manifest in the nuna-
ber of Finns who attended German universities and who learned
the German language. The two countries were also closely tied
by trade contracts. With the outbreak of World War II, when
Germany fought Russia through Finland and the Finnish soldiers
were forced under the armistice to drive the Germans from Lap
land, this exchange stopped. The fourth and current influence is
Anglo-Saxon, American business and English culture. English
replaced German as the third language, after Finnish and Swedish.
Some say Finland has the oldest people and is the youngest nation
of Europe, and America has the youngest people and the oldest
government of the world.
Not only does geography place Finland in an isolated position be-
tween east and west, but the Finnish people are solitary rather
than gregarious by nature. The Finns, as the Hungarian and Baltic
peoples, migrated out of Central Russia and found privacy in the
northern forest and lake country. Since the language is one of
the most difficult in the world, there are few translations of Finnish
Digitized by the Internet Archive
in 2011 with funding from
LYRASIS IVIembers and Sloan Foundation
works and few foreign books are introduced from abroad. This
isolation, the cross-neutralization of the four major foreign in-
cluences, the geographical and sea barrier, the solitary nature
of the people, and the language barrier have proved to be assets.
The Finns do not copy or imitate the latest vogue, are not awed by
architectural magazines, and do not feel inferior in the face of
accomplishments of wealthier or larger nations.
A Finnish national movement, called the "National Romantic, " be -
gan at the turn of the century. It was sired by the Russian attempt
to stamp out 'Finnishness." Because Sibelius expressed in music
the long suffering and deep feelings of the people for their beloved
forests and lakes, and because his "Finlandia" portrayed the sounds
of the singing woods and the tumult of battle, the government, upon
gaining independence in 1919, granted the musician a lifetime pen-
sion in gratitude. Aalto is referred to as the "Sibelius of Archi-
From this country of the north came the marathon and long dis-
tance runners who captured the Olympic world and its gold medals
even when there was no such country as "Suomi. " In architecture
Eliel Saarinen startled the world with his design of the Helsinki
Terminal in 1906 and by winning second prize in the Chicago Tribune
Competition of 1922. It was just following this period that Alvar
Aalto's star appeared when he won the prize for the Paimio Sana-
torium in 1929, his New York World's Fair Pavilion in 1939, and
his plywood furniture designs by ARTEK won acclaim. Similarly,
Viljo Revell attained fame with his prize for the international com-
petition for the Toronto Town Hall, termed by Frank Lloyd Wright
as a significant architectural break-through; and Revell placed a-
longside Eero Saarinen in the W. H. O. competition. This younger
Saarinen was looked upon with pride as a "son of Finland, " although
he emigrated to the United States with his father at an early age.
This intense patriotism and identity with one's country in a search
for the expression of basic honesty in the arts, whether in archi-
tecture, glassware, ceramics, textiles, wood or nnetals, has
caused Finland to be dubbed by the NEW YORK TIMES as the "Land
of Integrity. "
The National Romantic Movement, similar to Art Nouveau, may have
ended with national independence, but the after-effects lingered.
Eliel Saarinen, born in 1873. was its chief exponent. He was known
for hi? Finnish Pavilion at the Paris World Fair m ]Q00. th.^ v.ork-
ing and Uving center oi Hv.trrask near Helsinki, Central Stations
in Helsinki and Viipuri (1904-14). Estobank in Reval (1912), the town
halls in Lahti and Joensee (1912-13), and lastly his Chicago Tribune
Prize, after which, at age 55, he came to the United States to head
Cranbrook Academy. Seldom known are his Military Academy at
Munkkiniemi, the National Museum in Helsinki, and his suburban
planning for Munkkiniemi.
Lars Sonck, not as well known to the world, was the H. H. Richardson
of the movement. He built in bold masonry forms using granite, con-
crete, and space. He was a strong individualist who built churches
while Saarinen designed public buildings with collaborators GeseUius
and Lindgren The Kallio Church of 1908, the Church of St. Michael
in Turku in 1905 (won as a student), the large Church of St. John in
Tempere, the Helsinki Telephone Building (1909), the £ira Hospital,
and the Stock Exchange of 1911 are among his buildings. Others of
renown were Frosterus for the Stockman Department Store; Siren
for the massive and classic Parliament Building; and Lindgren for
his lyrical Olympic Stadium.
During the twenties. Architects Aalto, Byrggman, and Huttenen grad-
ually ennerged. They were influenced in the beginning by sonne of the
currents of Central Europe. Bryggman designed hotels, chapels, in-
surance offices, and the Vierumaki Sports Institute; and Aalto, now
30, began his Turku practice with a block for an Agricultural Co-
operative, followed rapidly with the Turun-Sanomat Building, and
the Painnio Competition. Aalto is the last link with the national ro-
mantic heritage that died with the coming of independence, the for-
eign influences of the twenties (especially that of LeCorbusier ), the
period of pre-war "Scandinavian Modern, " the post-war housing
planning and reconstruction, and lastly this new period of internation-
al competitions and technological advance. He continued on into a new
adventurous period led by Wright, the late Mendellsohn, and by Mies,
LeCorbusier, and Gropius, A^ the youngest of the pioneers, AaltO
is just now making his full potential felt in the world of architecture.
Sigfried Gideon, Space, Time and Architecture .
Frederick Gutheim, Alvar Aalto , "Masters of World Architecture"
series, Braziller, I960.
Ed. and CI. Neuenschwander , Finnish Architecture and Alvar Aalto,
Praeger, New York, 1954.
Finnish Granite - Aalto's Office
HE ARCHITECTURE OF AALTO
Sigfried Gideon, in his monumental book, Space, Time and Architecture ,
points to Aalto as important in the development of organic architecture:
"The European development based on constructive means and
the new visual approach had first to clear the atmosphere by
pure functionalism. This was necessary, unavoidable, and
healthful, but the moment that means of expression had been
found, the clearing up accomplished, then again the urge to
be organic could be felt. On another level and by other ways
than Wright's, it is moving toward the organic. In the north-
ern countries the work of the Finnish architect Alvar Aalto
indicated this not only there. On another level European and
American architecture may find a new and common path. "
Amid the present confusion of shapes and forms plaguing the archi-
tecture of western society, there are several courses being followed.
Professor Aalto indicated this in his talk at the dedication of the Fin-
nish architectural exhibition in Stockholm. First is the tendency to-
wards large scale repetition and mionotony, as in public housing units.
Second is the tendency towards exhibitionism in design concept: but
lack of quality details. A third danger is that of giganticism -- the
loss of human scale in society.
Peter Blake ascribed mastery of space to Wright, of form to Le
Corbusier, of structure to Mies, and in these same terms we can
only think of Aalto as a master "of humanity" in architecture. Aalto's
course has been one of treating human problems with human solutions,
of adopting warm and natural materials^ and of treating each design
as a laboratory research problem in itself.
To maintain quality, he feels he must give attention to details. There-
fore, he does not take the entirety of large commissions as American
architects are prone to do. For example, having just planned the new
Centrum for Helsinki, he would find it impossible to attempt more
than a few buildings -- perhaps the opera house, post office annex,
or a key business building -- and the other commissions would go
to other architects either by competition or allocation. Then, within
the opera house, he can design each detail down to the lamps and
chairs. This is a total design of quality, not partial design with quan-
Aalto's concern for details, such as a staircase^ is best revealed
in his RIBA annual discourse in London, 1957, when he received the
"Once I tried to nnake a standardization of staircases.
Probably that is one of the oldest of the standardizations.
Of course, we design new staircase steps every day in
connection with all our houses, but a standardized step
depends on the height of the buildings and on all kinds
of things. You cannot use the same step over all, be-
cause it has to be elastic enough to be put in everywhere.
We tried to solve the matter by an elastic system in which
the steps were going in each other, but in such a way that
the proportion of the horizontal to the vertical plane al-
ways kept the formula which we have had since the time
of the Renaissance, 1 think, from Giotto, and even earlier
from the Periclean time. For the movement of a hunrian
being there is a special rhythmical form. You can't make
a step how you like: it must be a special proportion. I
spoke about that in the University of Gothenburg. The
Rector said, 'Stop for a while, I want to go to the library. '
He went downstairs to the library and came out with a book
-- Dante's Divine Comedy. He opened it at the page where
it says that the worst thing in the Inferno is that the stairs
had wrong proportions. "
Aalto is also a master in the various modes of architectural in-
fluence. A recent issue of ZODIAC Magazine had an article,
"Alvar Aalto and Light, " which explained how the long dark winters
and bright summers with midnight sun have made the Finnish ar-
chitects, especially Aalto, aware of light problems. Aalto began
to master light with his Viipuri Library design, and continued with
his control of natural and artificial light in his prize winning Aalborg
Art Museum. He has also mastered the hieratic effect, whereby the
visitor is tantalizingly led by hints and suggestions in the right dir-
ection. His movements, rather than forced, are gently guided ar-
chitecturally. The floor plan of the Essen Opera House reveals this
simple and casual traffic flow.
Since Finland is limited in materials for building, and the more
economical materials are wood, brick, native stone, and Finnish
copper, Aalto has become a master of the use of brick. He has
used it almost exclusively in his projects from his experimental
house at Murratsalo to the custom-designed tiles on the elevations
of the Seinajoki Town Hall now under construction.
As all Finns, he designs with the natural environment and contour
in mind and makes his designs co-exist with the lumps of granite
that continually re-appear unexpectedly on building sites, and take
into major consideration the severe cold of arctic winters similar
to those in Alaska, Newfoundland, Greenland, or Icelai.d. Each of
his designs has an ennphasis on simple beauty and planning, but
each seems to be different in its painstaking detail and the plastic
approach to space. But Aalto is a practical designer whether he
be working on a mortuary ramp for the Vuoksenniska Church or
providing an indoor backdrop for the green vines which the Finn's
enjoy so much.
In the early 30's, Aalto began to design his own furniture and lamps,
manufactured by ARTEK, with which he furnishes his own archi-
tecture. He frequently uses curves and undulating lines, and bent
plywood proves a good media. He uses a similar design approach
when working with glassware.
Just as Aalto ranks first in architecture in Finland, his name appears
first in the encyclopaedia and dictionary. Strangely enough, the def-
inition of the word, "aalto, " is wave, and Aalto's designs are associ-
ated with the undulating wave or the gently broken line. The lines of
his work often appear in counterpoint or juxtaposition. As in the
Helsinki House of Culture, the business portion of the complex seems
more routine and has a box-like repetition, but suddenly it continues
into an undulating curve that terminates abruptly. Nature, in its
patterns, doesn't repreat rigidly either,but allows for playsome devi-
ations or variations on a theme, hence the casual and unexpected,
such as: A-A-A-a-A- A-B-A- A---a.
Professor Aalto has only a small office, by American standards,
and is ably assisted by his second wife, also an architect; a secretary
business manager, and an office secretary. There are usually about
nine experienced Finnish architects who are "project managers, " if
such nominclature may be used in Finland, plus five young students
or recent graduates working full or part time, and four assistants,
usually from countries where Aalto might have projects.
The steady cavalcade of visitors from all over the world makes it
difficult to give attention to architectural details and VIP's at the
same time. As a compromise, he has opened an architectural mus-
eum to provide visitors with information on Aalto's projects around
Finland. When possible. Professor or Madame Aalto tries to meet
with these busloads of professors and students from Russia, Spain
or Sweden, but notification must be given some days in advance of
For many years little was known about the distant nation of Finland.
While the Iron Curtain was closed, only a few persons were en-
route through Helsinki to the U.S. S. R. In consequence, Aalto
always had fun when traveling trying to cope with the strange
questions placed to him. He especially enjoyed "taking the mickey"
out of pompous people. He would tell how his staff skiied across
the lake ice from Otaniemi, of the all night sessions on black cof-
fee and smoked reindeer meat, and how everyone would take a
sauna after designing for 48 hours straight, come back refreshed;
and have a dinner in celebration. Some of the tales of Aalto are
somewhat legendary, but the heroes of the Kalevala were of his
type. For example, Aalto exclaims that paper was created by
God for architects to design on, and not for letters; this is one
way to explain slowness in his ansv^ering letters. Aalto draws
his strength from the pine forests which are filled with their own
music and magic, from the thousands of lakes, and from the aura
of the midnight sun suspended for hours as a golden disc. Each
Finn is awed by the severity and ruthlessness of nature in the
northland, and of the necessity of conforming to its laws. This
develops humility and self-discipline not found in the warmer
climes. Thus the search for the organic through natural mater-
ials in a country in which austerity is more frequent than luxury
tends toward an architecture of "humanity" with Aalto as its master.
Aalto's output is not great by American standards, but surely this
is not a measure of great Architecture. Many American firms
with large volumes of projects do the most mediocre work. Eliel
Saarinen was a great architect because of one building, the Hel-
sinki Terminal, conceived in 1906 as a link between the East and
the West. Louis I. Kahn, born opposite Finland on the island of
Ostel, is great because of his Richards Research Building - one
building alone. As Wright once remarked, the touch of the master
can be found equally in the design of a chicken coop as an opara
house. Aalto prefers opera houses.
Aalto is remarkable in that his clients are satisfied. The users
of his designs praise his works. Far from assuming a great-man
pose, i.e. , dictating a design from on high, he is first and foremost
concerned with the human being that must occupy a hospital bed or
climb stairs on crutches. He is concerned with door pulls that are
awkward and scratch the hands, or the simple play of light, sound,
or smell, the vista down a hall, or the landscape beyond.
Aalto's work falls into several classifications. As with most archi-
tects, he does miany designs that remiain in the project stage, but
most have been constructed. Most of his projects are of a cultural
or civic nature, but he has a keen interest in group housing.
Paimio; Sunila; Kaatua; N. P. I. ; Rovaniemi; Bromen.
Sunila Mill; Paper Factory, Inkeroinen; Sawmill, Varkaus; Nitrogen
Works, Oulu; Port Facilities, Gothenbury.
Sunila; Saynatsalo; Rovaniemi; Avesta; Oulu; Imatra; Naynashaimin.
Helsinki House of Culture; Wolfsburg House of Culture; Theater
and Concert Hall, Oulu; Essen Opera House; Leverkusen Competition;
Helsinki Opera House.
Aalborg Museum; Bagdad Museum; Leverkusen; Keski-Suomen;
Viipuri; National Pension Institute; Leverkusen; Seinajoki.
Seinajoki; Imatra; Wolfsburg; Lyngby Chapel.
Saynatsalo; Kiruna; Seinajoki.
Agricultural Co-op, Turku; Engineers' Club; Rautatalo, Helsinki; Enso-
Gutzett, Helsinki; Stockman's Annex, Helsinki.
Baker Dormitory, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Sports Hall,
Vienna; Sports Hall, Otaniemi; Technical Institute Master Plan, Otaniemi;
Teacher's College, Jyvaskyla; University Master Plan, Oulu.
Tampere; Paris Exposition; New York World's Fair; Hedemora;
Breaking these down into their respective periods:
Early "first notice" projects:
1928-30 TURUN SANOMAT, Turku
A ferro-concrete newsprint plant, characterized by
Narrow bands of windows, nnushroom ceilings, and
tapered columns in basement,
1929-30 PAIMO SANATORIUM (=^)
The competition prize that catapulted young Aalto to
1927-34 VIIPURI LIBRARY
His first use extensively of circular light wells in
the library and undulating ceiling in the community
Pre-War "Scandinavian Modern":
1937-39 SUNILA FACTORY AND HOUSING
A nnodern industrial community designed for the
peninsula adjacent to Kotka.
1938 VILLA MAIREA RESIDENCE (*)
One of his few houses designed for his patroness,
Mairea Gullichson, which has many elements intro-
duced that Aalto develops in later projects.
1939 FINNISH PAVILION, New York World's Fair
The project that attracted attention in the United States
and led to his invitation to M, I. T. during the war.
American Period and Post- War Planning:
1947 BAKER DORMITORY, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
His only project in the United States.
1949 OTANLEMI PLAN
Competition prize layout for university town.
1947 REGIONAL PLAN AND TOWN CENTER PLAN, Imatra (*)
His most significant, realized, planned group.
1949 OULU TOWN PLAN
A bold plan for redevelopment (unrealized).
Post- War in Finland, Multi- Unit, Long-Term:
1950-51 SAYNATSALO VILLAGE HALL (see analysis)
1952-56 NATIONAL PENSION INSTITUTE, Headquarters and Housing
A large, massive business structure in Helsinki.
1952-57 TEACHER'S COLLEGE, Jyvaskyla (*)
Prize winning campus plan for many types of buildings,
added to existing campus.
1952-58 SEINAJOKI CHURCH, Centrum Grouping
The first of a series of church designs.
Recovery and boom, mostly Helsinki projects:
1952-54 RAUTATALO (Iron House), Helsinki
First large office building for downtown part of city.
1955 AALTO'S OWN STUDIO OFFICE, Munkkiniemi
Office is moved from Engineers' Club to near own suburban
1955-58 HOUSE OF CULTURE, Helsinki'
Business offices and auditorium
1956-58 CHURCH OF THREE CROSSES, Vuoksenniska, Imatra (*)
One center in the planned town of Imatra
Overseas Projects, Invitational or Competition:
1956-59 MAISON CARREE, Bazoches
Near Paris, France, done for the art dealer, Louis Carre,
1958 BAGDAD ART MUSEUM, postal and telegraph office.
Unrealized because of revolution.
1958 CULTURAL CENTER, Wolfsburg, Germany (*)
1958 APARTMENTS, Bremen, Germany
Like a casual hand of cards.
1958 TOWN HALL. Kiruna, Sweden
Solution "Aurora Borealis," (unrealized).
1958 AALBORG ART MUSEUM, Denmark
Prize winning solution
1959 OPERA HOUSE, Essen, Germany
Prize winning solution
1959 CHURCH SEMINARY, Wolfsburg, Germany
A grouping of buildings.
Recent efforts in Finland:
1958 ROVANIEMI HOUSING
Being built slowly in units.
I960- OTANIEMI TECHNICAL INSTITUTE
1959-61 JYVASKYLA KESKI-SUOMEN MUSEUM
Historical Museum with exhibition and lecture halls
Housing for National Pension Institute
1959-61 ENSO-GUTZEIT OFFICE BUILDING, Helsinki
A new theme in business building design, reflecting
"white city of the north. "
1960-61 CITY PLAN FOR HELSINKI CENTRUM, (known as Keskus)
A nnaster plan added to "the most blueprinted city in the
world. " A crowning achievement which may require ten
to fifteen years to realize.
* PAIMIO TUBERCULOSIS SANATORIUM (1929-30)
Paimio, near Turku, Finland, cited by Gideon as one of three insti-
tutional buildings linked to the rise of city architecture, is the com-
petition prize that catapulted the young Aalto, then in practice with
Erick Bryggman; into international fame. Located on a hilltop, the
290- patient main building is the center of a self-contained community
in the midst of a forest. The six- story wings, topped with a solar iunn,
are a composition of cantilevered balconies. There is a purity of
concrete form linked to such small but integral details as having three
walls of each room being "hard" and one "soft", with the walls painted
of a soft indefinite tone and the ceiling a bit darker so as to be easier
on the eyes of the bed-ridden patient, and the balance effected be-
tween natural and artificial lights in each patient area. The hand
basin, for example, receives falling water at a slight angle to a-
void undue splashing, and the door knobs are moulded to fit the hand
more easily. The reinforced concrete outside walls are 4" thick
with a 4" thick facing of brick and a 1-1/2" interior facing of com
pressed cork. The whole hospital is conceived for the physical needs
of the patient and for the psychological effect of the environment. It
is designed as an integral whole, to which each part is a necessary
element. Even pine trees are planted in tubs along the balconies to
soften the harsh lines. The Finn is appreciative of beauty in such
* VILLA MAIREA (1938-39) Country residence for Mrs. GuUichson.
In the NEW YORK HERALD TRIBUNE, June 30, I960, Professor
Aalto is quoted as saying, "I tell you, it is easier to build a grand
opera or a city center than to build a personal house. " Indeed, the
only other private residences he has designed are his own residence
Classroom Building and Track - Teachers' College
in Munkkiniemi and that of Monsieur Carre at Bazoches, France,
near Paris. Villa Mairea has the same milestone position in the
works of Aalto as perhaps the Savoy House to Le Corbusier, the
Barcelona Pavil ion to Mie s, or the Winslow House to Frank Lloyd
Wright. He has been able to experiment with many innovations
which were more fully developed in other projects, such as the
undulating wall, design and manufacture of individual lamps and
furniture, the subtle juxtaposition of materials, the "orga.nic" i-
dentification with natural environment and site, and a spatial or-
ganization that gives a slight hint of what lies beyond. The over-
all effect is not a garish display of wealth, but a simple and rus-
ticated country house for a wealthy woman of exceedingly culti-
vated taste, in which value mater ialis are easily mixed with the
most commonplace in a casually deceptive mianner. This house
is located near Noormarku, Finland,
* BAKER DORMITORY (1947-48) Massachusetts Institute of Technology
This was the only design commission accepted by Aalto during the
war years when he served as Professor of Experimental Archi-
tecture at M.I. T, , in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Indicative of
this milestone is that Aalto places the elevation drawing of the
Baker Dorm on the wall beside his work desk. Aalto returned
after this design to Finland and for several years his best efforts
went into planning and reconstruction during a "lean period. "
Large architectural commissions were not to follow for some
years. The Baker Dormitory stands in contrast to the other mas-
sive stone, classic monuments of the university like a "brutalistic
snake, " but its concept is simply to utilize to the m.aximum the
view of the Charles River. The library and lounge areas are rem-
iniscent of the Viipuri Library in the spatial arrangement, the
stairs, and the overhead light wells. The stark and somewhat
brutal placing of the main staircase, enclosed but placed outside
the main face of the wall, was an innovation of this post-war per-
iod. It has been said that the detailing and craftsmanship on this
building suffered from the relatively high labor costs in machine-
directed America in contrast to his other projects in Finland,
Scandinavia, or Europe.
* JYVASKYLA TEACHER'S COLLEGE (1952-57) Master Plan and Design
As in most of Aalto's key commissions, this was a competition award
for Jyvaskyla, the city in south central Finland where Aalto studied as
Tower in Form of the Cross - Seinajoki Chur
a boy. It consists of approximately ten buildings, or units of
buildings, linked together. This complex consists of everything
from residence dormitories to the auditorium. This is a "uni-
versity-type" college not often found in Finland, and is U-shaped
in campus plan. The placing of the various buildings is in a subtle
relationship, often on a slight angle to each other, emphasizing
the hieratic effects as one walks up and down, over, and around,
in an approach carefully studied for its casualness and simplicity.
The amphitheater consists of stone blocks, rough hewn, arranged
in arcs, facing the high wall of solid brick of the main building
(a wall broken at several points, creating interesting shadow lines
vertically, and of carefully selected brick colors that vary the
tone). The over-all effect is of a university acropolis, higher
than the city, overlooking the valley and the long lake that ends
nearby. Adjacent to the university grounds is the Aalto- designed
Keski-Suomen Museo which was recently opened.
>>= IMATRA CHURCH (1956-58)
"The Church of the Three Crosses" in the community of Vuoksen-
niska is one of several groupings in the planned city of "Imatra"
on the border of the U. S. S. R. Aalto planned Imatra as an area
that would grow together in a complex over the years. One com-
munity was invited to develcp the principal building and "center. "
This church would have other purposes than worship services on
Sunday. This church was the first by Aalto after he completed
the Seinajoki Church, and it is the intermediate step before his
Wolfsburg, Germany, Church Center which is now under construc-
tion. This Imatra Church it^ often cited as his finest ecclesiastical
design, as Saynatsalo, and it is only fitting that this masterpiece
be located in a Finnish village in the backwoods rather than in the
hubbub of a larger city. Instead of designing assembly areas ad-
jacent to the sanctuary, the inain body can be divided into three
independent areas, each with its own natural and artificial light-
ing and outside entrances. Cnly the choir section, with room for
250 persons, is used permanently as a sanctuary. On important
occasions, nearly 1,000 persons can be accommodated by opening
the sliding walls. Among the significant details to be noted are
the slender bell tower that is as straight as the surrounding pine
trees, the manner in which the mortuary ramp into the basement
is shown on the elevation, the contrast to relatively window-less
east elevation with the large double-sash windows on the west,
the custom design of fixtures, and lastly, acoustical design. A-
coustical trials with light rays were attempted before the final
undulating ceiling pattern was adopted.
Terrace and Balcony - Keski-Suomen Museo
Jyvaskyla Central Finland Museum
* WOLFSBURG CULTURAL CENTER (1959) Wolfsburg, Germany
Aalto's growing prestige has been the cause of several recent
commissions in Germany, including this "foldhaus" in the "Volkswagen
City. " Now under construction, only a few drawings and model pho-
tographs have been released, but upon completion much publicity will
appear. It occupies a position alongside the central square of the town,
and its dominant characteristic is the fan- shaped arrangement on the
second floor containing five lecture halls of the "people's high school. "
The library features light wells and a custom skylight appears over a
connmon room. Much of the structure is based on a repetitive module,
but then at the appropriate point, the line becomes broken and turns
into this remarkable fan outline. The facade will be of marble and
glass; a large model recently appeared at the exhibition of Finnish
architecture in Stockholm.
* HELSINKI CITY CENTER (1960-61) "Keskus"
This long range plan for the Centrum takes us ten to fifteen years
into the future and links to the past city plans of Engel, Saarinen,
and Krakstrom for the "most blueprinted city in the world. " The
complex problems of rail and auto traffic, parking, government
office space, urban renewal, cultural facilities, city de-centrali-
zation are solved in the Keskus, finished by Aalto in March and
presented to the Finnish government and to the City of Helsinki.
Photographs and drawings appear in the August, 1961, CASA BELLA.
Helsinki Center, based upon the Railway Terminal, Sokos, Parlia-
ment Building, and the post office, will be for business and culture,
leaving the old city center on the waterfront untouched. Helsinki-
North will be a suburban commercial area in Pasila, 3 kilometres
to the north. The Keskus unites the presently separated areas of
Kallio and Toolo, east and west, and the Olympic Stadium sports
area, railway terminal, and business district, north and south.
The anchor of the plan is the Mannerheim Monument and a large
triple-deck plaza called "the central place" that cantilevers over
the lake and conceals shopping and automobile parking areas. Aalto,
the architect, will probably design only the opera house, post office
annex, and one business building.
Entrance Canopy and Undulating Facade
Helsinki House of Culture
A SPECIAL ANALYSIS - SAYNATSALO
From a plane flying from Helsinki to Jyvaskyla, one can see the \-iew
of the 100-mile long Lake Paijanne, and at the lake's end, in the sweep
of an eye, the city of Aalto's boyhood, the Teacher's College on the
hilltop, and not far away, the village of Saynatsalo at water's edge,
and Aalto's summer home on the island.
In a visit to Saynatsalo Town Hall, one can see "the touch of a Master
in the forest. " It is unfortunate that architectural magazines have
never done justice thus far to this project., perhaps because it is
so far from Helsinki, though the Neuenschwander book devoted many
pages to photographs, details, and plans. Seldom does one building
seem to personify the life, aspirations, and talents of the master
architect as much as this village civic center, the largest of six
buildings Aalto proposed in his master plan for the area which is yet
to be realized.
As it stands alone, it has beauty. Once when a neon sign was erected
that blocked the view, it was rumored that Aalto and friends staged
a raiding party by night from nearby Murratsalo that destroyed the
offending bit of commercialism.
As in the Church of Imatra, Aalto has done his best work of its type in a
small village in which he has become involved in the life ana habits
of the simple people who will use his design. Aalto has spent many
vacations in sunny Italy, and come back inspired by the hil, piazzas
of the small Italian towns. Saynatsalo is the first project in which
he has used a raised mound as part of his design, thereby putting
the courtyard on the "main" level, and relegating the business shops
to the lower ground level where the bus stops. This design shows
mastery of wood and stone, infinite care afforded to the smallest
interior detail, and the over all integration of the design, within and
without, to its environment.
Aalto is quoted in TIME Magazine October 5, 1959, "I wanted to
make it a town center, a building that would gather in people, so
I put the garden inside, and then the inside is no longer neutral. I
lifted the building up to make a vertical difference between the traf-
fic in the street and the people meeting inside. The street is full
of the gases from automobiles. We lift up the human being and put
him in a bette : world. " How many wealthy American towns of 3, 000
possess such a civic center with such careful planning and design?
When first approaching the Town Hall through the pines, one is
vaguely aware that this is a multi- level building of some complexity.
There is obviously a row of commercial shops on the first level,
owing to glass display windows, but curiosity is aroused as to the
second floor of brick wall, punctuated by a continuous but varying
fenestration covered with vertical strips or blinds. Above and be-
hind looms a curious box-like tower with a sloped roof. vVhat is it?
Walking past the shops and around the corner, this shape appears
as a high brick wall, topped with a band of windows, and terminat-
ing on one side as a jagged line, owing to a succession of cantilevered
walls. (See illustration. ) This indicates there is something rather
unique going on inside. Next is a suggestion of the formal staircase,
inviting the viewer to walk up. At the top is a pleasant garden court-
yard. The first door is to the library and reading rooms over the
shopping area. On the right is an entrance to a U-shaped passage-
way encompassing the garden and fountain. There are walls of glass
on the left and city offices on the right. As one enters the major jjas-
sageway, there is a passage leading up and around to the large city
council chamber, but it is isolated from the chatter of the hallway
visitors. The inner sanctunn has a high ceiling with dramiatic and ex-
uberant wood trusses flairing out as though intended to be the center
of attention, but in reality are structurally integral to the building.
At the opposite side of the courtyard from the fornnal stairs is an
informal terrace staircase going down^ with growing grass held m
place by form-work boards in a broken pattern not unlike contour
terrace farming. Next to this is a brick and concrete staircase lead-
ing to the private apartment of the caretaker. Once back on the ground
level and looking up at this staircase, a totally different vista appears
than from the formal staircase.
In contrast to the excitement of the cantilevered council chamber on
the other elevation, the opposite side of the Town Hall complex is
modestj but the wall is recessed outward slightly at two different
points, thereby reading as three distinct units. When the viewer
walks behind the structure, he is aware of the window placement
and the curious effect created by the recessing brick work which
appears every few feet (always 1/2 brick wide, 1/2 brick deep, but
the termination point varies in an undulating line). This effect softens
the rigidity of the over-all form. The brick surface is of varied
brick, both in color and in placement. It was tested personally by
the architect at his experimental house nearby. The play of shadows
from the forest adds to the excitement of the surface.
Many visitors can not afford the two hours necessary to understand
the wholeness of the design, and are surprised to find in -fche council
chambers a Leger painting "to counter-balance a large map of the com-
munity on the wall, and this painting in turn is placed next to a
carefully louvred wood-blind window which provides the necessary
natural light to accentuate the bright colors in the painting -- a
touch of French avant garde in backwoods Finland. Cylindrical
lamps are suspended from the high ceiling to provide the artificial
light necessary during the long and dark winter months.
In Finland there is no money to be wasted on affectation or absurd
architectural postures, but the low cost of labor, the availability
of wood, and the abundance of hand- craftsmen with a pride in their
skill make it possible to have such custom details. This little
center is loved by the citizens who use it, and perhaps that is the
highest salutation to the architect. It is also applauded by the pub-
lic at large as well as the architectural critics.
Entrance Elevation from Bus Stop
Saynatsalo Village Hall
Stairs to Upper Court
Saynatsalo Village Hall
The Shopping Area
Saynatsalo Village Hall
A Stairway Detail
Saynatsalo Village Hall
INLAND'S ARCHITECTURAL FUTURE
In Finland no architect goes without work s i nn p 1 y
because he is "too good. " Competitions are held for practically
every important church or public project in every city. There is
always city planning work being done. The young architect is very
busy during this period of suburban expansion in Helsinki and gen-
eral high level of economy. The lean post-war period of reparations
payments and slow recovery are over. In Finland now, it is "what
you can do, " not "who you know" that counts.
After Aalto, there are perhaps thirty Finnish architects of younger
years capable of outstanding design ability. They do well at honne
and in international competition abroad. Most of these architects
have small offices with three or four students or recent graduates
as helpers. Such studios have an international flavor. Many for-
eigners studying architecture at the Institute of Technology work
in these offices. One can find a multitude of languages, and oc-
casionally an Ethiopian, Turk, Japanese, or South American who
has come this great distance.
VILJO REVEL is known for his Palace Hotel in Helsinki, and other
pilotis- supported structures in Finland. He and his associates
enter many competitions.
RIEMA PIETILA is looked to by some as the promise of the future,
owing to his youth and dedication, and his research in morphology.
He won the Tampere Cathedral Prize and designed the Brussels
VELI PAATELA worked for Aalto on the Baker Dormitory at M. I. T.
and later for Saarinen. He has done mostly clinics and hospitals.
OLAV HAMMARSTROM is practicing in America. He has a one
man office which produces quality church designs and, as Paatela,
he worked both for Aalto and Saarinen, as well as doing planning
in Finland between the Winter War and World War II.
KAIJA AND HEIKKI SIREN have been winning many Finnish design
KEIJO PETAJA is known for his Lautaasari Church which was done
in collaboration with designer Ilmari Tapiovaara.
AARNE ERVI and JORMA JAR VI do schools, commercial and housing
projects. Jarve is especially known for his Helsinki Post Office.
KAARLO LEPPANEN and MATTI ITKONEN are two of Aalto's assist-
ants who have won competitions.
PAULI SALOMAA does glass boxes similar to those of S. O. M. , i. e. ,
his Autotalo and Kaivokatu 10.
JONAS CEDERCRUETA and HELGE RAILO did the Central Hospital of
The SUOMALAINEN brothers in Helsinki won a church competition that
marks them for future greatness, and AARNO RUSSOVUOI has the church
prize at Hyvinkaa, and many other competition awards for future designs.
Cte should also speak of Tiovo Paatela, OUi Kivinen, Prof. Aulis Blom-
stedt, Markus Tavio, Einari Terasvirta, Tarja Toivianinen, Osmo Sipari,
Esko Makel, Esko Korhonen, Eero Eerikainen, Hilding Ekelund, Jaako
Kaikkonen, who have been influenced by Aalto and tke pioneering heri-
tage. When the present demand for housing and planning is satisfied; then
they will turn their eyes on the world and design abroad. The rest of the
world will probably only know them through magazines or journals, trav-
els, books, exhibitions, or discussions with other architects. If they do
not become well known, it will be because Finland is a distant country
from the United States and the Finns do not like to publicize themselves.
Finland is a mecca for good architecture and a fountainhead for Scandinavia.
Aalto resembles a "singer" from KALEVALA - LAND OF HEROES, the
Finnish folk myth. It speaks of coming generations:
Let us clap our hands together.
Let us interlock our fingers.
Let us sing a cheerful measure.
Let us use our best endeavors,
While our dear ones hearken to us.
And our loved ones are instructed,
While the young are standing round us,
Of the rising generation.
But let this be as it may be,
I have shown the way to singers
Showed the way, and broke the tree-tops j
Cut the branches, shown the pathway..
This way therefore leads the pathway.
Here the path lies newly opened.
Widely open for the singers,
And for greater ballad singers.
For the young, who now are growing,
For the rising generation.
ARCHITECTURE AT RICE SERIES
Number Title & Date
ON PEOPLE AND THINGS
20 September 1961
William W. Caudill
THE UNITED NATIONS CONFERENCE
ON THE NEW SOURCES OF ENERGY
(CONFERENCE DES NATIONS UNIES
SUR LES SOURCES NOUVELLES D'ENERGIE)
30 October 1961
Paul Jacques Grillo
RICE PRECEPTORSHIP PROGRAM
10 December 1961
William W. Caudill
ALVAR AALTO AND THE ARCHITECTURE
1 March 1962
Scott D. Hamilton, Jr.
CORYL LaRUE JONES — Editor of the Series